It promises to be a roadside revolution in Ireland -- signs that actually tell you where you're going.

For decades, getting from A to B in the Irish countryside has required asking directions from locals and hoping they were less misleading than the road signs: cast-iron arrows with tiny black-and-white script that worked best in the days when Ireland's traffic was more bicycle than car.

The government, hoping finally to rescue tourists lost in rural areas in their rental cars, last month launched a $5.3 million project to erect large, easy-to-read signs for some of the more bewildering byways.

Pat Gallagher, junior environment minister, conceded that the project was long overdue. He said the first five counties involved -- Wexford, Kerry, Galway, Sligo and his native Donegal -- would get their new bearings by the end of the year and most of the 21 other counties by 2007.

"If we want to market ourselves successfully, basics like signposting should be in place," Gallagher said. "It really has been a confusing experience for too many of our international guests."

Indeed, getting lost amid Ireland's lattice of narrow, hedge-lined byways has been a traditional part of the tourist experience.

Tales abound of following the 1920s-era signs to a particular promised land, only to find that the pointers disappear at a crucial crossroads -- or worse, they lead to another sign that claims the hunted village in question is now even farther away.

Complicating matters, older signs offer distances in miles, newer ones in kilometers -- but travelers often can't be sure which is which. New speed limit signs, meanwhile, are often presumed by visitors to be in kilometers, but they're still in miles.

You generally have to drive slowly to get properly confused -- because signs are small and placed so that you're often passing them before you can read them.

The old-fashioned signs are nonetheless beloved icons of Ireland's emergence as an independent state in the 1920s, and the government has no plans to take them down.

Rust and theft are gradually doing the job anyway. Particularly in the past decade, with an explosion of Irish-themed pubs worldwide, organized gangs have stripped whole parishes of their signs for export to faraway bars. A particular favorite for theft is the sign to one County Kerry village that reads, "Inch, 1 mile."

Veterans of Ireland's maddening road system aren't holding their breath for the day when they can navigate the countryside without recourse to a loquacious man on a tractor.

"Never mind the countryside. I still get lost in Dublin," said Irish Times columnist Kevin Myers, a road-sign crusader who argues that the Irish have never understood the functional point of signs.

"You've got extraordinarily misleading signs and signs that tell outright lies, and most of these are new," he said. "Dublin Corporation is putting up signs at the moment that are designed to baffle anyone from outside Ireland."

"They refer to Dublin as 'an Lar,' which is Gaelic for the city center -- and it's a term that nobody uses because we all speak English here," Myers said. "Everybody in Europe would understand the word 'center,' so naturally we can't use that. The powers that be are intent on putting up signs in a dead language for pseudo-cultural purposes and doing nothing to help visitors."

Old Irish road signs, such as these in County Wexford, have long perplexed travelers in rural areas. The government last month began replacing them with large, modern signs. At a traffic circle in County Wicklow, drivers may have to make a loop or two to read the antiquated directional signs.